A matter of freedom from the threat of violence, part 2

Many are protesting the attacks and showing their solidarity with the victims by holding up pens, refusing to allow free expression to be silenced.

“I can say with as much certainty as is possible that, wherever the light of free debate and expression is extinguished, the darkness is very much deeper, more palpable, and more protracted. But the urge to shut out bad news or unwelcome opinions will always be a very strong one, which is why the battle to reaffirm freedom of speech needs to be refought in every generation.” – Christopher Hitchens

I hadn’t ever heard of the French weekly satire magazine Charlie Hebdo before this morning (at least, I cannot recall having heard of it). I probably would have floated along in unfamiliarity until masked gunmen stormed their offices and murdered twelve people. And on what basis were they attacking a satirical magazine? That Charlie Hebdo had satirized Islam and the Prophet Mohammed. You can read more about the specifics elsewhere, there’s no shortage of coverage, but the long and the short of it is that the attackers carried out this mission, it seems, to avenge the depiction of Mohammed in the magazine. Whether there’s a specific incident the attackers were responding to or not remains unknown as of this writing.

This of course comes on the heels of the Sony hack and the threats on theaters that showed the movie The Interview in December. Of course, Charlie Hebdo has been attacked before, as have Danish newspapers, author Salman Rushdie, and it goes on. All over free expression.Now, as far as Charlie Hebdo‘s politics or the content they produce, I’m agnostic, mostly because I’m unfamiliar with it. From what I have seen from the coverage, the cartoons are fairly crude in style, emphasize certain ethnic and racial stereotypes, and, while there may be something lost in the translation, they don’t seem particularly sharp as far as satire goes. But none of that matters. In liberal societies we place enormous value on the freedom of expression and today that was attacked.

I’m sure I’ve offended people with what I’ve written here or in other forums- in fact, it was some back and forth here and on Twitter over my comments on the way the media handled Robin Williams suicide that brought me to the attention of a USA Today reporter who ended up interviewing me for a story on mental health awareness. There were (a few) unpleasant people in the comments section of that article who took issue with what I said – some of them relying on bad pseudoscience regarding psychiatry that comes from the unfortunately named Scientology cult. I’ve written before about wanting to reduce the stigma of mental illness and have more open dialogue about mental health issues. Occasionally this means I’ll write something about religious belief intruding on science and medicine when it comes to treatment or therapy. I’ve written posts about Sam Harris, a prominent and somewhat controversial critic of religion in general and Islam in particular. I’ve depicted Jesus holding a campaign sign and wearing a Santa hat on the blog. I’ve been told that some of this offends the sensibilities of people I know and care about.

Some complained, I’m sure some people just stopped reading and some people confronted me to tell me how I had offended them. But do you know what? None of them tried to silence me, none of them told me I can’t say what’s on my mind and certainly none of them tried to murder me. I’ve deleted posts from this site once before because I publicly aired a private grievance, which was wrong. But I’ve never taken down a post because it offended someone, and, I don’t ever intend to.

It can be frustrating to see events like this unfold and feel helpless or to feel like the only outlet available to you is hashtag slacktivism, consider making a small donation to and organization like the Committee to Protect Journalists:

“CPJ promotes press freedom worldwide and defends the right of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal. CPJ ensures the free flow of news and commentary by taking action wherever journalists are attacked, imprisoned, killed, kidnapped, threatened, censored, or harassed.”

It’s one way that you can support continued freedom of expression.

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